Imperfect compromises are becoming necessary to combat climate change

Week 2 of COP26 began with Barrack Obama holding center stage, seemingly connecting desires of Saturday protesters with goals of countries at COP26. “Not only can we not afford to go backward, we cannot afford to stay where we are,” Obama stated. But he also reminded the conference that imperfect compromise was required to move forward and solve the problem that transcended day-to-day politics.

If this summit is to be deemed a success, the talk around Glasgow this week must focus on underlying details of the agreements.

There are key themes to almost every conversation here in Glasgow.

1) The devil is in the details

To a large extent, the success achieved at Paris COP was precisely because they did not attempt to implement a target that was agreed to by all participating nations. Instead, each country agreed to create its own targets, which it would monitor and report on. While an agreement was reached on this approach, it was nothing more than pledges and targets that failed to reach the required 2-degree limit on global warming. At COP26, the expectation is of greater detail and transparency into the actual commitments, in order to put the planet on the right path. This will take much negotiation from teams staying back in Glasgow after the leaders leave.

2) Developed vs developing economies

The rationale for the Paris compromise was based on a long-standing disagreement between various parties about who should pay the most, how developing countries could catch up without becoming heavy polluters, and how subsidies should work across them. In fact, in a separate 2009 agreement, $100 billion a year was supposed to be transferred from the developed group to enable this transition. This failed to be met, and without a wealth ‘catch-up’ transfer mechanism being agreed and enacted, it is difficult to see how the goals can be achieved.

3) Carbon markets

Trading or taxing carbon use has to be agreed upon at an international level. The less developed countries had expected to use subsidies to create climate adaptation/mitigation projects wherein, while not cutting emissions directly, would allow them to build resilient economies that halted the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere. Transaction taxes on carbon use are seen as the most likely way to ensure that such subsidies can be provided. But negotiations around carbon markets are and will continue to be among the most complex at the conference. This is seen as a core result against which success will be measured.

4) Enforcement of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)

Keeping the pledges made at COP26 requires ratification at the legislative level in most home countries. The tracking or reporting is currently provided by the country itself, which needs to change to make long-term goal tracking a reality.

5) Restatement of NDCs with more ambitious warming limits

Once enough progress has been made for targets to be realistic, they have to be reset for them to get well below the 2.7-degree they would currently deliver. The higher the accepted target, the more adaptation is needed by weaker economies, which implies greater subsidies from wealthier nations.

6) Climate pathways involving all GHGs

Climate pathways are not linear, with different gases having different effects and very different half-lives in the atmosphere. Methane pledges sit alongside CO2 commitments, which create pathways that have endpoints in common but may see points above, before flattening by 2100. This clearly implies that adaptation plans have to be made with mid- and long-term physical impacts in mind.

In Glasgow, everybody appreciates circularity and complexity of the problem. But the split between direct emission taxation and private finance is crucial to how banking will be impacted.

Therefore, as Week 2 gets underway and the real negotiations begin, the question at every coffee shop, chip bar, and a pub is—just how imperfect the compromises will be, and will they satisfy the large governments and protesters enough, to form an uneasy alliance to make progress that both agree is urgently needed?

Signing off for today, best regards from Glasgow…